Monday, September 14, 2015

Historic mill, cemetery await on creek route

Mingus Mill. Photo courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains NPS.

Mingus Creek
Trail heads
through narrow
mountain valley

Day hikers can take a trip to the 1800s on a segment of the Mingus Creek Trail at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Topo map of  Mingus Creek Trail segment.
Click for larger map.
The 4-miles round trip section runs past a historic grist mill and a pioneer cemetery in the national park’s North Carolina section. The route is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a 1,000-mile footpath that runs from the park’s Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks. It’s also only a mile or so north of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s southern/western entrance.

To reach the trailhead, from Cherokee, N.C., take U.S. Hwy. 441/Newfound Gap Road north to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Continue past the center for about half-a-mile to Mingus Mill, which is on the left/west. The trailhead is at the parking lot’s far west end.

For the first mile, the wide, well-maintained trail follows an old road built by the CCC during the Great Depression. A canopy of new-growth forest covers the route, and rhododendron lines several sections of the trail. Early spring offers the chance to see a number of wildflowers on the forest floor; among them are blue phlox, violets, Virginia bluebells and white trillium.

About 0.1 miles from the trailhead, the historic grist mill is on the left/southeast. Built in 1886, it’s still in operation today. Tours are available from mid-March through mid-November, and cornmeal ground on the site can be purchased. Though water-powered like other mills of its day, it uses a cast iron turbine, rather than a water wheel, to turn its grinder.

Millrace, sluice
Continuing on the trail, from the grist is a millrace and then a moss-covered sluice, on which water is diverted from Mingus Creek to the mill.

The creek and trail traverse a narrow valley. Mt. Noble to the south tops out at 4066 feet and is the highest point on the horizon. Mt. Stand Watie to the north is 3961 feet. Thomas Ridge looms to the west.

At 0.4 miles in, the trail passes the park ranger shooting range. From there, the path gradually narrows, and the surface grows rockier. Two small footbridges allow hikers to cross the creek.

A trail junction appears at about a mile from the trailhead. Continue on the path that runs right/north. It heads uphill to an old family cemetery along Mingus Creek.

Pioneer cemetery
In another mile, the pioneer cemetery with 29 gravesites marked by fieldstones appears on the right/east. This actually is one of four cemeteries near the Mingus Creek Trail; among them is a slave cemetery, which is immediately north of the parking lot.

The cemetery marks a good spot to turn back. If continuing on, the trail heads to the top of the surrounding ridges.

The trail, creek and mill are named for John Jacob Mingus, the first white to settle within what is now the national park. He arrived in the Oconaluftee Valley during the 1790s when a young adult.

Once done hiking, you can continue the exploration of pioneer times by driving a half-mile south of the trailhead to the Mountain Farm Museum. There you can explore a farmhouse, barn, applehouse, springhouse and smokehouse, all built in the 19th century.

Learn about other great trails at this national park in Best Sights to See at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.